Monday, July 13, 2015

The Second Amendment Solution: Searching for the Right Problem

I could provide links to all kinds of places where the toll of firearm deaths in America are recorded and listed, sadness heaped upon tragedy.  I won’t, though, because this isn’t about the tragedy;  plenty of folks have written about that, and I doubt I could add much to that heap o’ words.

What I do want to do is to talk about my own feelings regarding the Second Amendment and the state of firearm ownership in America today.

When I grew up in Texas, starting in the 1950’s, private gun ownership was unchallenged.  Our TVs were filled with the Westerns in which every citizen carried a firearm;  my dad owned one with which he taught me the basics of firearm safety and how to shoot.  (bolt action 22)  His lessons on safety started out with, “Don’t ever point a weapon at someone unless you intend to shoot them.  If you DO point it at someone with the intent to shoot, don’t hesitate.  Do it.”  There were other details, including the same thing my Drill Instructors in the Army taught us, “There is no such thing as an unloaded weapon.  They don’t exist.”

If every firearm owner in the US followed just those two precepts, the numbers of firearm deaths in this country would be much lower.  Unfortunately, there isn’t an IQ test for buying a firearm in America.  Or, probably, anywhere.

Ok, that said, on to the Second Amendment.  So, yeah, I grew up with the assumption that firearms were the unchallenged right of every American to personally own.  Then I went to college and got educated, and in that Constitutional Law course, I learned that there were some wrinkles to that assumption.  Since, of course, serious constitutional Scholars have written online articles noting that many scholars had felt and understood that Amendment to mean exactly what it said about militias, and seeing the real, actual history about the Revolution, I can see the point.

Unfortunately for those folks, the SCOTUS ruled a few years ago that people DO have a personal right to own a firearm, while still leaving in place the rulings which give States and Cities the right to regulate firearms in the name of public safety.  This is, of course, an ongoing struggle to define what public safety means, requires, and what the Constitution allows.  It may never be decided.

Which isn’t a bad thing.  Unlike the most conservative of the right wing, it is obvious when reading the writings of the Founders that they intended the Constitution to be a living document (sorry, Scalia), and therefor provided a method for amending it.  They even made statements like Thomas Jefferson’s in which he hoped future generations would alter it regularly to stay updated with current political and social realities.  The man wasn’t stupid, he was a radical of his day, not a conservative.  He wanted us to keep it real, and relevant to our own time and reality.

Times change, people change.  When the Constitution was written and ratified, the Revolution was the biggest story, that and creating a new country.  The Founders wrote that document based on their experiences and based on how they felt about what they had just done.  The frontier of 19th century America wasn’t on their radar yet.  As time went on, the frontier got more and more important, and people’s experiences with pushing the natives off of their land made it apparent that anyone attempting the move west was going to need some kind of weapon to just feed themselves, not to mention protecting themselves from resentful natives.

I suspect that if that experience had been more on the minds of the Founders, the Second Amendment would have looked very different.

But wait about 50 or 60 years past the turn of the century, and things began to look different.  As the frontier States moved west, and the easternmost territories began to civilize, settle and become States, one thing became very clear.  Folks in settled towns and cities didn’t want a bunch of nutbags running around with firearms on their belts.  Most of them, as they became settled, enacted laws forbidding the open carrying of firearms, and I imagine concealed carry wasn’t far behind.  Even towns on the active frontier like Dodge City had laws forbidding open carry beyond certain limits.  They kept the riffraff on the other side of town to safeguard their homes.

It is a lesson apparently forgotten by today’s Republican Party and the NRA.

I won’t go over the stats about how many people we kill every year.  I don’t need to, they are well known.  The obvious conundrum we have today is how to satisfy the very large and politically influential gun lobby while still fulfilling the requirement for safeguarding public safety.  Now that the SCOTUS has ruled we can all own one, until that gets overturned (if it ever does) our task is to balance that right with the public’s rights to be safe and secure in their persons, homes and workplaces.  The problem we have is that the right wing doesn’t see it that way.  The NRA and other right wing interests have so stirred up their base that their only and main fear isn’t public safety, it’s preventing the government from taking their guns.

A problem that obviously doesn’t really exist.

Personally, I am torn on this one.  I do think people should have the right to own firearms, that right has been assumed for so long, it may as well be chiseled in stone somewhere.  But on the other hand, we MUST do something to stem the tide of murder, mayhem and negligence ridden deaths that annually top 25,000 people.

In case you have’t been paying attention, that is more than five times the numbers of soldiers we lost in Iraq.  EVERY YEAR.  Not in ten years, like Iraq.  Every. Fucking. Year.

Somehow, someway, we must find a way to stop murderous, crazy and incompetent people from getting their hands on firearms.  Not being an expert on making laws, nor law enforcement, I cannot really make any reasonable suggestions.

But it MUST be done. Somehow.

I will leave you with a thought.  I follow a blog called Stonekettle Station.  Jim Wright has a very interesting suggestion for how to at least begin to control our issue while at the same time changing the gun culture we have.  I recommend his solution to your perusal.

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